It’s been said that the only thing worse than training employees who leave is not training employees and they stay,” says Hank Bongers, director worker safety and human resources, North American Meat Institute (NAMI).

More than ever, hands-on training is key for food and worker safety, but training programs are also being updated and reinforced online, as well. 

“I would say the critical first step to any training for our industry is safety, both food and worker safety,” says John E. Johnson, managing director of Epsilon Industries. “Everything falls into place after the importance of safety is established and continually reinforced throughout one’s term of employment.” 

After all, well-trained workers are the first line of defense against food pathogens. “Employee safety, product safety and productivity will always be a focus, whether turnover levels are high or low,” says Matt Spencer, director of human resources and safety programs for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. “Companies must protect their No. 1 asset, their workers, while still providing a healthy product that meets customers’ demands.” 

The meat industry has the second-highest turnover rate, says Kari Underly, principal of Range Inc. But worker morale is improved if they receive thorough training despite that, because employees realize they are considered an important investment. “If they leave, they are still representing your company when they show the skills you taught them,” Underly says. 


Back to basics

New employees benefit from hands-on cutting techniques, as well as learning about the basics of food and worker safety training, company policies and procedures.  

“So, training for new employees tends to focus on job hazards: proper cutting techniques, how to put on and off personal protective equipment (PPE), the emergency process if they need to evacuate or shelter in place, how to report injuries and ergonomics — what effect the job has on their bodies,” Bongers says. 

Bongers says employees should warm up and stretch before their shift as if they are preparing to play football or another sport, because they need to prepare their body for the hard work to come. “They also need to understand who to talk to if they have an injury or discomfort, before it becomes an injury,” he says. “People getting hurt doesn’t benefit anyone or their family.” 

Hands-on training is the most costly training method, because employees have to be taken off line to learn or instruct.  

“But an online training system provides a big opportunity to cover product knowledge and company belief systems, especially if the company has employees all over the country,” says Underlay. “They also give a real-time ability to change products or training, and the barriers to implement them are not that high.” 

Online training providers are certainly growing in usage, Spencer says. “Training can be self-paced based on the employees’ language and educational abilities,” he says. “Picture- and animated-based training utilizes less dependency on comprehension of written word.” 

Visual tools, such as video and universally understood pictures, are used for training and help eliminate language and literacy issues, Johnson says. 
“An overlooked challenge is literacy as well as comprehension of the subject matter, such as the importance of food safety,” he says. 

Web-based management systems not only streamline training, but also can document the employees’ progress. “Real-time quizzes, not just binders of paper, offer value,” Underly says.  

While online training programs offer advantages, it’s still key for trainers to ensure employees understand the visual tools. “I’m not a big fan of stand-alone videos and just signing off that is done,” Bongers says. “Companies need someone to read the employee and his or her understanding of the material. The trainer also needs to be there.” 


Workplace culture

It’s possible to hear 15 to 25 languages at any time on a meat or poultry processor’s floor. Translators may be needed to differentiate between another three to four dialects of one language. Spanish, for example, has many nuances. So how do trainers work with employees who speak English as a second language? 

“Communication barriers are a challenge, especially as workforce cultures diversify more,” says Spencer. “Cost and implementation are a factor when trying to select a provider or create training materials internally that meet all workers’ language and educational backgrounds.” 

Materials can be translated, but some trainers suggest still using English terms as well so employees become more familiar with them. “We can translate ‘T-bone steaks,’ for example, by listing the English word and native language term underneath it to help employees learn English,” Underly says.  

The key is to use employees’ native language for safety issues and knowledge. “They should see English terms, but we wouldn’t want them to use their second language — if they don’t understand English well — regarding hazards,” Bongers says. 

Cultural differences can loom as greater obstacles than language barriers. “In some cultures, it’s a sign of weakness if you have pain,” says Bongers. “The sooner you say something, the easier it is to fix, though.”  

Programs can be implemented during training, but if they are not reinforced, they are not effective, Bongers says. “Trainers can reinforce what employees are doing well, coach them and instruct through experience,” he says. 

Everyone likes a pat on the back. To reward employees for completing training, they can be awarded a certificate of completion, badge on their coat, sticker on their helmet or even a raise, Underly says.  

“To teach employees new skills, they can keep completing interactive online programs, learn in the form of games, use live tools like Train the Trainer on Facebook or make virtual or augmented cuts,” she says.  

Management also needs to understand the worker they actually have in the classroom. “Senior employees, for example, can have more in-depth training than new employees,” Bongers says. 

What should internal auditors look for to prepare senior staff for audits? “Comprehension of training delivered, no matter what format it is provided in, will determine training effectiveness,” Spencer says.  NP